Sand in the Sandwiches – Digging into the archives

 In the massive ranks of plan presses next to the record archive were thousands of survey maps; one a month, overlaid with strong tracing paper, the intersections of a few latitudes and longitudes marked to give it a fix, and every locust report was marked.  The reports were all numbered and in the corner of the map, the details of the reports date was listed, so it was all cross referenced.  These maps covered four or five degree squares at a time, and organised by year into large green folders, and each drawer or set of drawers would contain a decade of data for an area.  Then in a separate area were the blue maps, the wax maps that contained the whole locust area.  Taking the data on the big sheets, it was summarised by month into one huge map, and from these forecasts could be made on how populations were developing and moving, usually by comparing it with weather reports and knowledge of topography and temperatures at varying heights.  Woe betide if the plotters made mistakes, they had to carefully scratch at the ink with a scalpel and fill the space with French Chalk.  The whole archive reeked of French chalk, and that wonderful smell of old documents.

At the back of the room were all sorts of odds and sods.  A remarkable archive of pictures of swarms looking like rain clouds above the desert, people trampling on millions of hoppers, walking through fields where the locusts sprang up like a dust storm.  Pictures of the camps from the field teams who would spend months at a time in the harshest parts of the desert doing the essential research that gave us the knowledge for today – canvas chairs set about billy cans on fires, tents all over like a glorifed scout camp and men and women in large brimmed hats, kaki shirts, long baggy shorts and thick hairy socks.  These pioneers of locust research all had their oddities, the idiosyncrasies, frightfully far back accents and upper class mannerisms.  Jane could just about remember, she told me, of her work as a junior in Kensington and having these huge moustached men walk off the plane and into the office while they were still dusting the desert off their shoes, still wearing their kaki uniforms and full of wild tales of adventure, and the occasional piece of gossip, out in the field.

Finally there were movie films of this, some in black and white, some in colour.  I remember three German’s who came over to UK to look at this film in the hope of picking up some knowledge of the effect of pheromones, instead they were intrigued at silent movies of camp life in the 1950’s.


Fleets of trucks with which to attack the locusts

Fleets of trucks with which to attack the locusts


2 thoughts on “Sand in the Sandwiches – Digging into the archives

  1. Sand in the Sandwiches – Digging into the archives – String Knife and Paper

  2. Sand in the Sandwiches – Digging into the archives – String Knife and Paper

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